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Yoga and Healing: An invitation from Rachel Dahlgren

 

Photo by Becca McHaffie on Unsplash

“I’m too fat.” Such a small thoughts or phrases  that run through our heads that affect how we feel, interact with others, and go about our days. I don’t remember the first time I had a thought like this or when I started hating the way my body looked when I looked in the mirror. I do remember feeling so self-conscious about myself in 6th grade. I was one of the tallest kids in my class and I felt out of place. I wore extra large T-shirts and baggy jeans to hide my body. Desperately wanting to be thinner, to be beautiful, I tried throwing up what I ate in an effort to make my body smaller. I just wanted to look like those beautiful models I saw on the covers of Seventeen! While in high school, in addition to my unhealthy eating patterns, I focused my energy on exercising to maintain my physical fitness. I started getting up early to go for a run before school and attend countless dance classes after school. I don’t think my parents or friends had any idea what I was doing to my body or about the negative thought patterns that played out inside my head.

Photo by Pat Kwon on Unsplash

When I got to college, I began to realize these eating patterns and habits that I had were linked to my mental health. One of my friends who was studying nursing told me that she had learned in her classes that often those who are diagnosed with eating disorders also have a diagnosis of depression or anxiety. I began to realize how my thoughts about myself impacted my emotions and wellbeing. Although I continued to have negative thoughts about myself and my body image, I began to have a little more self-awareness. In college, it was harder to binge and purge with the community bathrooms, so that eating pattern slowly faded away, although the negative thoughts I had about myself remained. I became very active playing ultimate frisbee, which offered me a community of wonderful, supportive people.

Tearing my ACL the first time a year out of college was very challenging for me, physically and emotionally. I could not exercise outside of my physical therapy sessions and struggled with a fear of getting more fat. I was tried to do ab workouts, which was not the same as a cardio workout, but at least I was doing something. I began to do yoga once I was able to bend and bear weight on my knee again. It felt good to move and stretch my body in a way that I had not done before.

I had used to be a dancer but the yoga movements that connected my breath to movement and my mind to my body were different, requiring both strength and flexibility while also noticing my thoughts, acknowledging them, and letting them go.

I stuck with the practice for a while because my body was feeling better, but slowly stopped as life got busy and the studio that I went to closed. The second time I tore my ACL, I was devastated. I knew the journey ahead of me was long and arduous as I had already been through it once. Again, I was so fearful of gaining weight and losing my physical fitness. Once again, I turned to yoga as a form of fitness that was gentler on my body than ultimate frisbee. Once again, I found a something more than just fitness, but a way to heal my body and mind through mindfulness.

Throughout all the phases of my  yoga practice, one thing that I have noticed is how much better I feel, physically, emotionally, and mentally after doing yoga. My practice has been very empowering to me.

The message of “wherever your body is right now is okay” has meant so much to me.

No matter what pose I am doing, my body is fine where it is at. Yoga is not about how you look in a pose, it is about connecting your mind and your body and building self-awareness about what your body is experiencing in that moment. In a yoga class, teachers often offer different options for poses or you can take a resting pose. You get to listen to your own body and give your body what it needs in that moment. The poses also give you an opportunity to explore, play, and try new things. The first time I did an arm balance, I could not believe it! I never knew my body could do something like that. My yoga practice has helped me to feel good about my body and appreciate it. Of course there are challenging days when I just don’t feel that great about myself but I find when I am able to practice a little yoga, appreciate the many blessings life has to offer, the voice saying that “I’m not good enough” or “I’m too fat” is not there.

Yoga has been such a vital aspect to my health and healing throughout my journey. Mental health treatment has been another very important part of my healing process. The mental health center that will be built in Logan Square will help to serve so many people and provide people with an opportunity to help us deal with all the things that life throws at us. I invite you to join us on Wednesday, August 29 at 7:00PM to a yoga class at St. Luke’s to support this important community resource and to experience the mind/body connection.

For more details, speak with Rachel on a Sunday or contact Claire in the church office (office@stlukesls.org)

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